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Why is it that, when non-disabled people are talking about or to disabled people, they feel that it is perfectly fine to say or ask whatever they like? Regardless. Absolutely anything. Things they would not dream of asking or saying about a non-disabled person but, because we are disabled, they feel they have a right to know.

Surely, people don’t do that, I hear you say. Well they do. Granted, it’s not everyone, most people are great, but it certainly does happen and it is definitely not fine. Just because we are disabled it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. Rule of thumb here guys, if you wouldn’t like people to say what you are about to say about yourself, then, in all likelihood, your disabled compatriot is unlikely to like it either.

And, most of the time, it’s not necessary either. Again, before you open your mouth ask yourself why you are about to say what you are about to say? Is there a valid reason or are you just being nosey. In many, if not most cases, it’s the latter and not the former. You really don’t need to know at all.

So what kind of thing am I talking about then. Well, I’m sure just about every disabled person in the country, in the world really, can think of more than one occasion when someone has said something that was unnecessary or hurtful or when they have been asked something intensely intimate and private when there was no need.

Last weekend a friend of mine was very upset when she overheard a visitor to her home in conversation with her partner. My friend, who has an impairment which can cause her intolerable pain, was in bed after having a very bad night due to pain and nightmares. The inconsiderate visitor was heard saying that she thought my friend was extremely lazy and asking, couldn’t her partner do something about it, because it just wasn’t right for someone in their early twenties to be so idle. Thankfully, her partner dealt with the situation very well and the visitor later apologised but, knowing that my friend is disabled, why did this person feel they had the right to say what they did if they didn’t know the full circumstances?

And it’s happened to me too. Just because I am obviously disabled, and use a wheelchair, I have been asked questions no-one in their right mind, would ask a non-disabled person. “How do you go to the toilet?”, “Can you have sex then?” and, said with some incredulity, “You mean you’ve got a job then? You work?” These are genuine questions I have been asked by random strangers on the bus or in queues at the checkout. I have even been stopped in the street and asked if my children were mine because they weren’t disabled too. Who thinks they have a right to do that? I think the most hurtful question I have ever been asked personally was when I went to my GP to get the result of a pregnancy test. The doctor had the brass nerve to say, almost without stopping for breath, “Congratulations Poppy, you’re pregnant. When would you like the abortion?” Once I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, I said I didn’t want one. She then said, “But you have MS. How will you look after a baby?” Apart from the fact that, at that time, my MS was fairly newly diagnosed and was causing me very few problems, she was also completely ignoring the fact that I had a partner, parents, a sibling and other friends and relatives who could lend a hand if I needed one. Much the same as any other young, pregnant woman actually. Why did my MS diagnosis mean that this woman felt she had the right to say what she did. In my opinion, she didn’t. My MS didn’t mean I was completely incapable. Sure, I might have a few difficulties but, doesn’t everyone else? Thankfully, her fears were, as I had expected, unfounded and I had no problem with my pregnancy whatsoever. Or with my second pregnancy two years later for that matter, a very different experience altogether, thanks to a new, understanding GP and a supporting Midwife.

Just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean their life is public property. How their impairment affects them should be on a need to know basis only and if you don’t need to know, don’t ask. It’s private and unlikely to be any of your business. If you wouldn’t like to be asked yourself, move away and stop being a poke-nose.

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Regular readers of my blogs will know, without doubt, of my addiction to social media and how often the posts I read on Facebook and Twitter make me angry and inspire my writing. And today is no exception to the rule. Today it is a post on Facebook that has rattled my cage and made me want to write again.

The thoughtless comment I read this morning was yet another post about ‘benefit scroungers’ and fake disabled people. Someone was going on about all the people who are in receipt of PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and it’s predecessor, Disability Living Allowance, who ‘aren’t really disabled and entitled to it’ are they. The fake disabled person, as far as this poster was concerned, was a woman who volunteers in a local charity shop twice a week who gets PIP and has learning difficulties. The point, as far as the poster was concerned anyway, was that learning difficulties wasn’t a proper disability and that PIP was only for people who couldn’t walk or for blind people wasn’t it? No understanding whatsoever. No attempt, that I could see, of any research being done about the payments, just a declaration that the woman in question was a scrounger and a fraud because there was no special something which gave a clue as to her medical diagnosis. Not only that, but at least two responders had suggested that the OP (original poster) should report the woman to the DWP for fraud, especially as she was volunteering, which meant she could obviously work, so shouldn’t be getting any benefits at all should she.

Why is it that the less clued-up general public seems to think that all disabled people must have some sort of sign or badge which marks them out as having an impairment? Why is there little or no understanding for all the thousands of people who have conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, autism, mental health difficulties, diabetes or epilepsy? How about all the people whose impairments have little or no outward manifestation. What about those of us who do not have an aid such as a white stick, a zimmer frame or a wheelchair that means we’re lying. Some of us have nothing at all that marks us out in a crowd. Someone with learning difficulties may need another person with them when they go out to help them get from A to B safely. Someone with diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in their hands might be able to walk but might not be able to hold a pen or pencil so may need a writing aid. Someone in the earlier stages of Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease may need to use cabs to get around but they can still walk a bit. Just because they have no visible sign of an impairment does not make them any less disabled that someone with a guide dog or a mobility scooter.    

And, where does it say that disabled people can’t volunteer or go out to work? To start with, PIP and DLA are welfare payments made to disabled people to help them with the extra costs their impairments cause. DLA and PIP were designed to help put disabled people onto a level playing field with their non-disabled compatriots. They are not a payments that are based on our diagnoses, they are based on our need for some help with our day to day lives. We don’t all have something that marks us out from the rest, a label which says ‘genuinely disabled’ hanging round our necks. More often than not there is nothing special about us to distinguish us at all.  And this leads on to the second myth my original poster and secondary responders were expounding, that DLA and PIP cannot be paid to disabled people who are in work. The extra costs disabled people can incur don’t go away with the arrival of a pay cheque. Someone who is unable to use public transport and has to catch a cab everywhere they go when they are unemployed is still going to have to call a cab to go places after they get a job. They will not, magically, get better the minute they sign an employment contract. Miracle cures don’t work like that or we would all be out there hammering on the doors of recruitment agencies begging for work.

Genuine disabled people don’t wear badges and there is nothing that says that disabled benefit claimants don’t need a little bit extra from public funds to put them on a level playing field, even if they do work. People who post comments on Social Media really do need to think twice and do a bit of research before they hit the enter key. What, at first glance, may look to be unfair usually isn’t. Disabled People are not money grabbing crooks, we’re just people who are trying to make the best of the difficult situation we have found ourselves in, often through no fault of our own. Disparaging and thoughtless comments and social media posts don’t help. If you’re not sure, do a little research, you may learn something and void hurting someone who has done nothing to hurt you. Most people aren’t crooks and should be treated with consideration, however much some social media users may like to believe they are.